WTA suspends matches in China, calls for transparent investigation into Peng Shuai allegations

Business & Technology

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has become the first global sporting organization to say ‘no’ to the Chinese government, suspending all matches in the country and calling for champion Peng Shuai’s freedom and for her #MeToo allegations to be investigated.

peng shuai tennis
This isn’t going to happen again anytime soon: Peng Shuai at a WTA match in 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced today that it is suspending all of its tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. The move comes almost exactly a month after tennis champion Péng Shuài 彭帅 accused former Chinese vice premier Zhāng Gāolì 张高丽 of sexual assault in a swiftly-deleted social media post on November 2.

Chinese state media and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — which is organizing the Winter Olympics together with Beijing in 2022 — had previously tried to reassure the world that Peng was safe and free, but Steve Simon, Chairman and CEO of the WTA, said in a press release announcing the suspension of China operations that he remained unconvinced:

Peng’s message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China. Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way.

While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation — without censorship — into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

Simon said that “none of this is acceptable” and referred to the WTA’s founding intent to work for equality for women. Therefore the organization will immediately suspend “all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.”

  • Simon also said he was “greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

How much money will the WTA lose?

The WTA opened an office in Beijing in 2008 and has been growing rapidly in China since then.

  • In 2019, the WTA began a ten year deal to host its season-ending tournament in Shenzhen — this agreement is unlikely to remain intact.
  • WTA has eight other scheduled tournaments in China.
  • The New York Times estimates that the WTA “stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years by pulling out of China,” noting that organizers in Shenzhen had “committed to some $150 million in prize money and millions more on tennis development in the country.”

Related:

  • The European Union released a statement on the reappearance of Peng Shuai: “The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat.”
  • The LA Times reports on “three lesser-known women have vanished as China tightens restrictions for activism on gender, labor, and other issues.”
  • Previously on SupChina: #PengShuai

China news, weekly.

Sign up for SupChina Weekly, our free roundup of the most important China stories.